For many people, having a small business of their own is the dream of a lifetime. Every day, hundreds of dreamy-eyed shopkeepers open up their doors for the very first time, hoping to buck the trend and make it past the first five years during which statistics says that more than half of them will go under. Opening up a new business takes a certain amount of courage, as well as the ability to invest decent amounts of time and money into something that isn’t a surefire bet by any means. Luckily, the vast history of people who have blazed this trail beforehand has left us with quite a few time-tested strategies to improve your odds at achieving and maintaining success.
With that in mind, one of the most fundamental lessons any budding entrepreneur has to learn early is how to market their business. Put simply, marketing is all about communicating the value of any given product, service or brand. It is inherently necessary for any functional business to speak to its customer base in such a way that they will be drawn to whatever is being marketed. The starting point of any successful strategy lies in getting down “The Four P’s”. Here they are, in logical order:
Without a product, your business has no solid ground to start on, that much is clear. It’s worth noting that products don’t necessarily have to exist in the physical realm, as even intangible services can be successfully marketed and sold. In fact, in most cases what is being sold is a mixture of the two. Selling someone a computer means providing a functional piece of hardware first, but it often also involves giving support to install the product, as well offering customer service in case of malfunctions. In order for your business to thrive, it’s essential that you discover your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), that is the combination of factors which make your product unlike any other, or simply a better deal than its competitors.
Place refers to the channels and methods that you use to distribute your product to your customers. In the past, people had to physically go to the store and procure whatever it was that they needed. Now, with the Internet having grown exponentially, it’s become increasingly feasible to have virtually everything, from cars to baby food, delivered right to your doorstep. This doesn’t mean that the second “P” has diminished in importance, however. If you have a small online clothing store for example, people will judge its look and functionality just like they would analyse a normal brick-and-mortar shop. A healthy purchasing environment can be priceless for attracting and maintaining customers.
The amount of money that consumers will have to pay in order to access your goods is a key consideration for all businesses, be they large or small. And, depending on how refined the market you’re operating in is, this can be a surprisingly complex aspect. It’s not enough to simply offer the lowest price anymore; you have to know who your customers are and what they want. In the mindset of many people, price is strongly connected to quality, so you might find that just by making things cheaper you may actually lose clients who associate higher prices with better products.
The final “P” is the one that will make or break your business. Many businesses falter not as much because of subpar products, but because the way they market and promote themselves is faulty. To be completely honest, what with all the avenues available at the moment, including radio, TV, SEO and social media, it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Still, a smart campaign can have trickle-down effects over every aspect of the business, allowing you to maximise the value of your product and increase its profits.
Of course, the four “P’s” only cover general aspects of running a small business. Today’s environment is crowded enough that you’ll need to get accustomed to specific techniques and tools that will help you get a leg up on your competition. A great example would be developing a strategy to automate your social media presence. Today there are plenty of applications such as HootSuite that allow you to save time by updating multiple accounts at once or scheduling posts at certain time intervals so you won’t have to waste too much time by continuously staying glued to your social media accounts.
Another pointed idea involves gaining the support of the community you’re trying to reach. Businesses that think and act on a grassroots level can gain a lot of traction in today’s climate
Simply by organizing events or sponsoring a local charity you can put your name out there as an ambassador for your community. Just make sure that the values promoted by your business or brand align with those of the initiatives you deem support-worthy. An energy drink manufacturer sponsoring a local skateboarding competition would probably be a good fit, whereas a vegan pastry shop contributing funds to the annual barbecue would be greeted with guffaws.
Another thing that’s become an absolute must for small businesses is cloud storage. Too many companies risk valuable data by storing it in what’s colloquially known as “soup kitchen servers”. Aside from being exposed to vulnerabilities ranging from malware to complete data loss, this method of keeping everything stashed on a physical hard drive is no longer efficient in today’s cloud-driven world.
There are plenty of tools on the market that can help you maintain control over your day-to-day activities, while at the same time offering professional security for your data. An example here would be LockedOn, which was originally designed for real estate companies but can be used well in any sales-driven environment, as it functions pretty much like a virtual personal assistant, helping you keep tabs on all your tasks and clients.
All in all, when you stop to consider everything that’s at our disposal nowadays, it’s clear that now is as good a time as any to start a company. After all, smarter tools and smarter people can go a long way towards making your business dreams come true. And, as the old saying goes, if you don’t build your own dreams, someone will definitely hire you to build theirs.